“I felt then, as I feel now, that the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organizing nothing better than legalized mass murder.” 

Harry Patch (1898–2009) ‘The last Fighting Tommy of WW1’.

During the early part of Queen Victoria’s reign, there had always been a fair amount of admiration in Britain for the German people and their culture and literature. This began to change in the late Victorian period, especially after the Prussian victory in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870–71. Seeing Germany as an increasingly powerful imperial rival, negative comments about the country now began to appear in Britain and by the early 20th century anti-German feeling was being stirred-up in papers like the ‘Daily Mail’, who in one story bid their readers to refuse service from Austrian or German waiters at restaurants – because they might be spies.

After WW1 started the Allied Powers quickly produced propaganda depicting the Germans as ‘Huns’ – capable of infinite cruelty and violence – and an anti-German mood, fuelled by Government propaganda and the patriotic Music Halls, swept across Britain. This led to some riots, with assaults on suspected Germans and the looting of shops and stores owned by people with German-sounding names. Even pets were not exempt, with the English Kennel Club having to rename the German Shepherd breed of dog, as the ‘Alsatian’.

So strong was this feeling that the British royals were quickly advised to change their names. In 1917, King George V issued a proclamation declaring that he and all the other descendants of Queen Victoria were changing their German surnames – be they Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Battenberg, Saxony, or Hesse – to Windsor. Facilitated by this Anti-German mood at home, even stronger feelings were whipped-up among the soldiers bound for the front.

Frank Percy Crozier, who became known as a WW1 ‘war-dog’ front-line army commander, later wrote about the combat training of his battalion. Describing the British soldier as ‘a kindly fellow’ he then added ‘it is necessary to corrode his mentality’. Crozier went on to describe his part in the process:

“I, for my part, do what I can to alter completely the outlook, bearing and mentality of over 1,000 men … Blood lust is taught for the purpose of war, in bayonet fighting itself and by doping their minds with all propagandic poison. The German atrocities (many of which I doubt in secret), the employment of gas in action, the violation of French women, the ‘official murder’ of Nurse Cavell, all help to bring out the brute-like bestiality which is necessary for victory. The process of ‘seeing red’ which has to be carefully cultured if the effect is to be lasting, is elaborately grafted into the make-up of even the meek and mild … The Christian churches are the finest ‘blood lust’ creators which we have, and of them we must make full use.”

[A Brass Hat in No Man’s Land, by F. P. Crozier, Cape 1930].

All the combatants in WW1, to one degree or another, stereotyped and vilified their opponents, to generate the bestiality and blood lust though necessary for their men to kill ‘the enemy’. Their success can be seen in the many military graveyards that abound in France in the areas where the fighting took place. As this Eric Bogle song, ‘The Green Fields Of France’, illustrates:

After WW1, Crozier told how he’d ordered his troops to machine-gun allied Portuguese soldiers who were fleeing the Germans. He also wrote about the many other unofficial killings carried out by him, or other officers and NCOs. Crozier said that the rank-and-file soldier: ‘seldom oversteps the mark of barbaric propriety in France, save occasionally to kill prisoners he cannot be bothered to escort back to his lines’.

He then described how he himself had shot a young British officer who had broken and ran: ‘Never can I forget the agonised expression on that British youngster’s face as he ran in terror.’ Crozier then explained his lethal action:

“Oh, I know you will ask why I killed that British subaltern. The answer is more obvious than easy. My duty was to hold the line at all costs. To England the cost was very little. To Colonel Blimp in his club and Mrs Blimp in her boudoir the cost was nothing. To me? Even if the effort did mean murder, the line had to be held.”

[The Men I Killed, by F. P. Crozier, Michael Joseph, 1937].

The establishment did not like Crozier’s descriptions of the ‘Great War’, mainly because he did not obscure the reality of the conflict, or throw a cloak of honour and glory over it. So, attempts were made to discredit him and these increased in the 1930s after Crozier, like the poet and writer Siegfried Sassoon, another WW1 veteran officer, had joined the Peace Pledge Union. Crozier went on to become an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and supported the League of Nations Union, which wanted a permanent peace agreement among countries based on the provision of a means to settle disputes, ensuring a mutual collective defence and the observance of international treaties.

In August 1937 Crozier died suddenly and ‘The Times’ rejected two brief tributes sent to them from the Peace Pledge Union. Instead they printed an obituary described as ‘ungenerous’ by his widow, which stated: ‘General Crozier, making no allowances for “political expediency”, proved difficult in a series of trying situations and resigned over a question of discipline’.

What ‘The Times’ could not stomach was that one of their ‘war-dog heroes’ not only wanted to tell the truth, but also now, had turned to peace. After all, from an establishment point of view, Frank Percy Crozier had an unblemished war record – as ‘Time Magazine’ pointed out:

“In 1914 he joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers with the rank of Captain. During the next five years he won the D.S.O., C.M.G., C.B., Croix de Guerre with palm, was mentioned seven times in despatches, left the War a Brigadier.”

Crozier’s journey from war-dog to peacenik had been long and torturous. He had believed in war, but turned against it when he saw others use it for gain, power or profit. And, based on what he had seen and done in war, it was a measured belief in peace he ended up with. It is a journey many others who have served have taken since.

Continued Propaganda & Brainwashing

Five decades after WW1, in August 1969, one of the organisations that became a main combatant in the Northern Ireland conflict issued a new training manual for its volunteers. It started with a quote from Mao Tse Tung: ‘Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun’. This instruction book was not, however, produced by any Irish ‘terrorist group,’ but was in fact, the latest volume of the British Army’s secret training manual, ‘Land Operations’.

This 1969 version of Land Operations – Volume III, entitled Counter-Revolutionary Operations – stated its aims as:

“To give general guidance on the conduct of counter-revolutionary operations, whether they are concerned with civil disturbances, terrorism or insurgency in the pattern of revolutionary war. It examines the methods most likely to be used by the instigators of disorders, revolts and insurgency, be they nationalist or communist inspired or based within or outside the territory concerned, and it sets out the general principles on which the security forces, working in close concert with the appropriate civil power, should base their operations.”

[Land Operations, Volume III – Counter Revolutionary Operations, Ministry of Defence, 29th Aug. 1969].

This version of the manual was not about conventional warfare – army vs army – but about occupying and holding territory against the wishes of a hostile population. In 1975 the London listings magazine, ‘Time Out’, obtained a copy of Land Operations and published extracts in its ‘Seven Days’ section:

“We have recently looked at a copy of the Army Land Operations manual … The manual, a loose-leaf text of over 300 pages outlines the attitude of the British Army towards social unrest and in minute detail describes the Army’s choice of responses to it. The manual is marked restricted and as such covered by the Official Secrets Act. But since that Act is now so discredited and since the information contained in the manual can be of no military aid to any enemy, we have decided to publish parts of it, believing it vital that the political issues it raises are open to public debate. The manual shows clearly that the Army regards its operations in Ireland as counter-revolutionary … This will come as no surprise to Ireland watchers, but is contrary to the Army’s press-handout image which portrays its role in Ireland as that of keeping the peace between two bigoted factions.”

[Time Out, 10-16 Jan. 1975].

The manual also indicated that the Army controllers were as ideologically motivated as the IRA and just as committed to use armed force to achieve their objectives. In the past ‘Time Out’ had already given details of the army’s riot training, which were prompted by the Land Operations manual. This included a statement from Terry, a deserter on the run, who had told the magazine about his time in the British Army:

“We’ve all been through riot training as part of our normal training – it was a bit of fun at the time. One half of us pretended to be Irish or the miners – or whoever was on strike at the time – and the other half would just charge into them. We’d think, ‘Today we’ll really get those strikers, or those Irish.’ We really thought like that.”                      [Time Out, 7-13 April 1972].

A knowledge of Land Operations was crucial to any assessment of the British Army’s role in Northern Ireland, but the top brass and the politicians wanted to keep the contents of the manual secret. Consequently, hidden behind the Official Secrets Act, it was hardly ever mentioned in the British media – denying the British people knowledge of the ideology and strategy behind their soldiers’ training and actions. Operation Banner, the military name for the troops active deployment in Northern Ireland, lasted 38 years from 1969 to 2007.

As stated in its introduction, the Land Operations Volume 3 manual had drawn on the Army’s experiences in previous campaigns:

“Between the end of World War II and 1st January 1969, Britain’s forces have had to undertake a wide variety of military commitments and only in Europe, after the formation of NATO, has there been any real stability. Fifty-three of these commitments have been of the counter-revolutionary type, with only Korea and the short Suez campaign falling outside this category.”

[Land Operations Volume III – Counter Revolutionary Operations, Ministry of Defence, 29th Aug. 1969].

In places like Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus and Aden inquisitive journalists had been kept away from the action, but this was not always possible now. In Northern Ireland, reporters appeared to be everywhere, and the army quickly realised that an ‘information policy’ was required. So, the Army then set about creating a propaganda unit in Northern Ireland:

“In September 1971, soon after the start of internment, the army reorganised its information service in the North, setting up an ‘Information Policy’ department. This was initially headed by paratroop Colonel Maurice Tugwell, whose title was Colonel General Staff (Information Policy). Tugwell had previously been an intelligence officer in Palestine, and had also served in Malaya, Cyprus, Arabia and Kenya … Tugwell’s job as ‘Information Policy’ chief was, … described [as] … ‘not merely to react to the media – or to events – but to take a positive initiative in presenting the news to the best advantage for the Security Forces’ … The army began training officers in how to be interviewed on television, and by the end of 1971 more than 200 officers had been through courses at the Army School of Instructional Technology at Beaconsfield. Here they were taught basic lore, such as always to look at the interviewer to give the impression of sincerity, and told how to answer ‘typical’ TV questions.”

[Ireland: The Propaganda War, by Liz Curtis, Pluto Press 1984 – updated edition published in Belfast by Sásta 1998].

A few individual journalists, however, refused to dissipate their critical faculties, and the Irish and international press sometimes provided an alternative view. Consequently, as Liz Curtis indicated in her book ‘Ireland: The Propaganda War’, at the end of 1971, Land Operations was updated and further ‘public relations’ aims were added:

  1. The requirement to provide information for national and world-wide publication, to convince national and world opinion that the cause to which the army is committed is a good one.
  2. The importance of fostering good relations with the local community.
  3. The need to preserve and improve the image of the army.

Most media coverage in Britain tended to faithfully follow the Army statements. As a BBC News sub-editor stated: ‘I’ve always assumed the official line is we put the army’s version first and then any other’. In Britain this state propaganda was largely successful, but wider afield it had less effect. In Northern Ireland it fooled very few and the conflict continued, not only in the streets and fields, but also for the hearts and minds of the people.

As with the Music-Halls in WW1, there were now other avenues for patriotic propaganda. As British troops first patrolled the streets in Northern Ireland, there was a programme on British TV called The Comedians. The comics would come on one by one to tell jokes for a set time and the bad, or lazy, comedians quickly realised that there were easy laughs to be had.

The main butt of their jokes were grotesque stereotypes of various ethnic minorities in the UK population – and by a long way the most of these gags were about the ‘Paki’, or the ‘Paddy’. A comedian just had to say: ‘There was this Paki’, or ‘This Paddy in his wellies’, and the audience would burst into peals of laughter. The comics didn’t even need to deliver their punch lines and this could only have been achieved via the conditioning of the home population – by the drip, drip, drip of systematic stereotyping in all the media, at a national and local level.

Certainly, as far as Northern Ireland was concerned, the ‘Irish-are-stupid’ labelling was rife enough to attain a result for Britain in the propaganda war. It also compellingly indicated an aspect of how the UK state exerted its control, as the inferred ‘stupidity-of-Paddy’ was added to the supposed proclivity of the ‘Micks-for-violence’, which were then arrayed to explain away the hostility to British soldiers on Irish streets. Rather than having to account for why there might be political opposition.

British politicians knew they required a compliant public at home in order for the army to carry out its operations. Westminster, therefore, described all army acts as ‘Peace Keeping’ and sought to control all media reporting. But their – and the army’s – clear preference was to manipulate the media, rather than suppress it, and the British TV and Papers, in the main, proved acquiescent to the establishment’s projected view of the situation.

So, just as with WW1, there was the propaganda to condition the population for conflict – and following on came the brainwashing of those who would do the fighting. A good example of the latter, occurred in the early days of the conflict in Northern Ireland, when the ‘Sunday Times Insight Team’ examined a publication given to soldiers just before a tour of duty:

“The Army rapidly produced a booklet; called ‘Notes on Northern Ireland’, with the praiseworthy aim of giving its men some idea what the trouble was all about. … The booklet printed in full what purported to be the oath of the IRA’s political wing Sinn Fein. As a case-study in psychosis, it deserves reprinting:

‘I swear by Almighty God … by the Blessed Virgin Mary … by her tears and wailings … by the blessed Rosary and Holy Beads … to fight until we die, wading in the fields of Red Gore of the Saxon Tyrants and Murderers of the Glorious Cause of Nationality, and if spared, to fight until there is not a single vestige and a space for a footpath left to tell that the Holy Soil of Ireland was trodden on by the Saxon Tyrants and the murderers, and moreover, when the English Protestant Robbers and Beasts in Ireland shall be driven into the sea like the swine that Jesus Christ caused to be drowned, we shall embark for, and take, England, root out every vestige of the accursed Blood of the Heretics, Adulterers and Murderers of Henry VIII and possess ourselves of the treasures of the Beasts that have so long kept our Beloved Isle of Saints … in bondage … and we shall not give up the conquest until we have our Holy Father complete ruler of the British Isles … so help me God’.

The interesting point is that the oath was never taken by members of Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein, indeed, had no oath of any kind. The version the Army got dated from 1918, when it was forged by a group of over-heated Unionists. It has since appeared regularly in Loyalist Ulster news-sheets, most recently in Paisley’s ‘Protestant Telegraph’. It bears exactly the same relation to reality as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – indeed, in its constant dwelling on blood, it has much in common with the Protocols. As a document, therefore, it tells one nothing about Sinn Fein, though quite a lot about the impulses to violence in Unionism.”

[Ulster, by the Sunday Times Insight Team, Penguin Special, 1972].

Although, clearly an attempt to condition the troops and raise their blood-lust, the question might have been asked: ‘How did this piece of blatant Unionist propaganda find its way into a British Army publication, issued to our young soldiers just before a tour of duty?’ The question was never asked, however, and the exposure by the ‘Sunday Times’ did not stop the brainwashing of the troops. As NI veteran, Brian Ashton, described how, just before a tour of duty, his riot-drill was combined with another element of indoctrination:

“The training I experienced created an impression that the Catholic minority were in fact the violent section in Northern Ireland. I’ll quote one instance. We were told to become a funeral march, a Protestant funeral march, and the rest of the troops were told to be Catholics and attack us, and steal the coffin, and we were led to believe this was common practice …”

[BRM Radio, 12th Aug. 1979, full text in Voices For Withdrawal, Information On Ireland, 1980].

Wild West Stockades & Indian Country

In late July 1972, after Operation Motorman – the largest British military operation since Suez in 1956 – soldiers in Northern Ireland forcibly occupied Nationalist areas. Within which the army hastily constructed a series of corrugated-iron and barbed-wire ‘Wild West’ style forts and arriving Regiments were given these ‘patches’ to control and dominate. And once on a tour-of-duty, a soldier was liable to find that his home for the next four or six months was one of these military fortresses in a hostile area.

Cramped into these forts, the soldiers – and the local population outside – viewed each other with a deepening mutual animosity. This report about the Parachute Regiment in a fort situated in the Ballymurphy estate in west Belfast appeared in ‘Soldier’, the official army magazine:

“The grey of the high corrugated iron which fences in Support Company of 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, is only marginally lighter in shade than the grey of the rendered walls of the houses outside in the dank gloom of a winter Sunday morning on Belfast’s outskirts. The modern counterpart of a Wild West stockade, the ‘wriggly tin’ fortress is surrounded by the ‘Indian country’ of the notorious Ballymurphy estate with its fervent Republican sympathies.”

[Soldier magazine, April 1977].

The soldiers were increasingly trained for an aggressive occupying role, learning from booklets adapted from the MoD’s Land Operations manual. A. F. N. Clarke served with the Paras as a private, an NCO and as a commissioned officer from 1971 to 1978. In his book, ‘Contact’, he described a typical para unit, inside a fort in Ballymurphy in early 1973:

“As time drags on, the whole camp is praying for a contact. For an opportunity to shoot at anything on the street, pump lead into any living thing and watch the blood flow. Toms [soldiers] sitting in their overcrowded rooms putting more powder into baton rounds to give them more poke; some insert pins and broken razor blades into the rubber rounds. Buckshee rounds have the heads filed down for a dum-dum effect, naughty, naughty, but who’s to know when there are so many spare rounds of ammunition floating about. Lead-filled truncheons, magnum revolvers, one bloke has even got a Bowie knife. Most of the NCOs and officers are aware that these things are around and if they aren’t, then they shouldn’t be doing the job. We have spent months and years training, learning from pamphlets called Shoot to Kill, Fighting in Built-up Areas and others. So now, we’re let loose on the streets trained to the eyeballs, waiting for a suitable opportunity to let everything rip.”

[Contact, by A. F. N. Clarke, Pan Books, 1984].

Ciarán De Baróid, in his book, ‘Ballymurphy and the Irish War’, described the experiences of the local people with the soldiers:

“Greater Ballymurphy was placed under 24-hour military occupation by the paratroopers. Patrols of 15 to 20 soldiers, keeping mainly to back-gardens, would race from one position to the next, so that troops were constantly appearing out of entries to search, question, assault and arrest passers-by. The streets were patrolled by Saracen armoured cars, Browning machine-guns trained on any visible resident, along with smaller Ferrets and the heavy Saladins – small six-wheeled tanks sporting machine-guns and a 76mm cannon. Any male leaving the house now risked beatings and humiliation from the patrols that passed at a daytime average of one every five minutes. An 18-year-old youth from Ballymurphy Crescent, who was stopped along with his girl-friend at the Bullring, was spreadeagled against a wall for 20 minutes while the soldiers twisted and squeezed his testicles, goading the young woman with lewd remarks about her boyfriend’s future virility. Another youth was forced to go on his hands and knees in a patch of mud with the Paras calling him a dog and ordering him to bark at his girl-friend. Resistance of any form to this treatment would have resulted in beatings and arrest – and a charge of assault from which there would be no escape in the courts.”

[Ballymurphy and the Irish War, by Ciarán De Baróid, Pluto Press, 1990].

Over a few days in early August 1971, during Operation Demetrius (Internment without trial), eleven civilians in Ballymurphy were killed by paratroopers of the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. A few months later the same unit, ‘1 Para’, were sent to Derry, where they carried out the Bloody Sunday massacre. Incidents like these in Nationalist areas dramatically increased the flow of young men and women joining the IRA.

Like in other conflicts, Soldiers were given verbal briefings before a tour-of-duty. In the early days these were often a mixture of counter-insurgency and cold-war rhetoric:

“We were also given lectures on the situation out there at the time. Even though we were going to be deployed in a part of Belfast that consists mostly of Protestants – with one small Catholic area – the enemy was firmly defined as being the IRA, and their sympathisers (which meant all Catholics). The republican political arguments were dismissed as being communist, and we were given a lecture on the ‘Russian threat’.”

[British Soldiers Speak Out on Ireland, by veteran Chris Byrne ex-Royal Marine Commando, IOI, 1978].

When this started to become known outside of the army, the MoD became reluctant to divulge the information it was giving to its young soldiers. In 1989 journalist Dennis Campbell visited the Queen’s Regiment at Bassingbourn Barracks in Hertfordshire and talked to a recruit:

“During our conversation about Northern Ireland, which he started, Simon referred several times to ‘fighting the enemy’ and ‘beating the terrorists’. But when I asked who he meant, and what recruits are taught to prepare them about the situation, one of his two officer ‘minders’ stopped him replying and asked me not to discuss matters of ‘operational secrecy’.”

[Guardian, 1st Nov. 1989].

Soldiers & ‘The Bloody Politicians’

Many of the troops in Northern Ireland just kept their heads down and soldiered-on, but the problems on tours-of-duty started to show. On 25th February 1979, Trooper Edward Maggs was shot dead in West Belfast. At the time, his death was front page news, different from the usual couple of sentences, ‘… last night another soldier was killed …’, printed at the bottom of page five.

According to military sources Maggs had been drinking inside the Woodburn Army base when he had suddenly started firing at other soldiers, killing Corporal John Tucker and seriously injuring Lance Corporal David Mellor, before he himself was shot dead by fellow soldiers. Maggs’ father, Douglas, a retired bank official, said:

“We don’t know what went wrong yet. All we’ve been told is that Eddie cracked up, ran amok with a rifle and was shot dead by another soldier to prevent further bloodshed. This wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been sent to Northern Ireland for a second time. He was a victim of Northern Ireland just as surely as if he’d been shot in the back by a sniper’s bullet. My son loved the Army, but four months out there last year finished him. He was terrified of going back. He planned to get out before his 21st birthday this September, and he’d applied for a job as a fireman in London. He was a good soldier, and I only hope that some good will come out of this tragedy.”

[Daily Mirror, front page, 26th Feb. 1979].

Maggs’ mother, Pamela, added:

“We adopted Eddie when he was six. Before he came to us his life had been rotten. We gave him all the love we could. He was always crazy about being a soldier, but he was desperately scared of returning to Northern Ireland.”

During the long period of conflict in Northern Ireland, Britain’s political parties prided themselves on their ‘bipartisanship’, paralleling the ‘blind eye’ attitude shown towards Northern Ireland after partition – which led to ‘the Troubles’ in the first place. Bipartisanship meant supporting and not questioning the ruling party’s policy, leading to a puerile level of discussions about the problem at Westminster. A few brave MPs asked pertinent questions and opposed all, or part of, Government policy, but invariably, they were attacked by their own party bosses, other establishment voices, and were vilified by the media.

Like most colonial-style conflicts, Northern Ireland was undeclared, which Westminster hoped might make it a forgotten war. When it refused to go away, most MPs kept their heads down and toed the Government line. Ex-Tory MP Matthew Parris confirmed this, when he later wrote about his time at Parliament:

“In seven years as a government backbencher I do not think I encountered more than a handful of MPs on either side who cared much what happened to Ulster … Most of the rest of us went along, more or less, with the policy of Her Majesty’s Government, whatever that was – ‘not giving in to the men of violence’ – or something. But we tended to find, when Ireland was debated, that we had other things to do. Plainly there was something amiss, not in Ireland – we knew something was amiss there – but here on the mainland. Here was a problem towards whose solution we were voting enormous sums and sending soldiers to die, and somehow, we couldn’t focus on it … I came to the view that if our Leader, Mrs. Thatcher, had announced it as her opinion that Ulster must make its own way, there were around 50 colleagues who would protest, 50 who would bite their lips, and more than 200 who would confess it was what they had always thought but never liked to say. I stick to that assessment now. I also concluded that nobody, including me, was going to be the first to voice such thoughts. And so it was that, though from the day I entered Parliament I never had the slightest doubt that Britain both must and eventually will disengage from Ulster, I never said so.”

[Spectator magazine, 25th Jan. 1992].

While the politicians turned a blind eye towards the conflict, it was evident, even from the early days, that many squaddies were fed up with their role in Northern Ireland. In April 1974, Christopher Dobson – ‘With the troops in Ulster’s ugly world of terrorism’ – filed this report in the Sunday Telegraph, under the heading: ‘ANGER OF ARMY THAT FEELS BETRAYED’:

“To walk along Belfast’s Royal Avenue today is like walking in the past – along Ledra Street in Nicosia when Eoka’s murderers were at work. Venturing into the Bogside in Derry is like taking a patrol into Aden’s Crater district, and dropping by helicopter into a border fort is like visiting a fire-base in Vietnam. So far more than 200 British soldiers have been killed while many more have been maimed. The soldiers’ work is hard, their pay is low and more often than not they receive curses instead of thanks from the people for whom they are dying. There can be no surprise therefore that the average soldier is thoroughly fed up with Ireland and everything to do with it. But what surprised me was the extent and depth of the bitterness that exists among the troops, some of whom are on their fifth tour of duty in Ulster. I met a section who had just returned from an ‘Eagle patrol’ – lifted in by helicopter to set a snap road block. They were tired, dirty and remarkably frank. I said to them: ‘Tell me what it is all about’. Their officers were present and I believe that they were also surprised at the depth of feeling that the troops displayed. Soldiers are expected to grumble, but these men genuinely felt that they were being misused and ill-treated. Their complaints ranged over pay, excessively long hours, of being ‘forgotten’, and in particular the inability of ‘the bloody politicians’ to settle the appalling mess in which the soldiers found themselves targets of both sides. Just as the American soldiers in Vietnam used to divide their existence between ‘the Nam’ and ‘the World’ so do the British soldiers in Ulster, with only the world outside seeming real while they lead a surrealistic existence in an unreal world punctured by the brutal reality of bombs and bullets. They feel that the people outside cannot understand this strange world of theirs and they feel cut off, forgotten. The impression they have is of people in safe England, so very close, watching their television sets, seeing the explosions and the bodies, saying, ‘How terrible’, and then turning to something really interesting like the price of petrol.”

[Sunday Telegraph, 7th April 1974].

While the politicians shirked their responsibilities for the ongoing conflict, it was left to Britain’s front line – the young soldiers, often still in their teens – to keep a lid on ‘the Troubles’. It is hardly surprising that many of those troops felt bitter and resentful. This video showed the grim reality of tours-of-duty in Northern Ireland set with the Status Quo song ‘In The Army Now’:

In 1980, a year after Trooper Edward Maggs had ‘cracked up’ in a Belfast Army base and been shot dead by his fellow soldiers, his father, Douglas Maggs, talked to a London newspaper about his son’s tours-of-duty in Northern Ireland:

“If only he had deserted everything would have been fine. Instead he stayed on and tried to face it. Nine out of 10 men out there must feel as he did. But he was the one to crack – when he had a gun in his hand. The reason for him leaving the Army he loved so much was that he could not face service in Northern Ireland. He dreaded going back there, but it wasn’t just the mere fact that he was in danger. It was the fact that everyone is your enemy out there. No one wants you there – it’s a lost cause like Vietnam. There is no end in sight.”

[Evening News, 26th Feb. 1980].

Pro-Active ‘Tin City’ Training

As British soldiers first arrived on the streets in Northern Ireland, they found themselves in an environment little different from their hometown areas. Previous ‘Emergencies’ had taken place in far off countries, but Northern Ireland was much closer to home, as this Welsh ex-officer recalls:

“Colonial wars were fought in Kenya, Aden and Cyprus and many other places. In each case the troops were told they were keeping the peace, and in each case their presence was disastrous … This war is much closer to home. The people are white, and cannot be dismissed in the shameful way we dismissed our other victims as ‘coons’, ‘ayrabs’ or ‘wogs’. Their towns look just like Cardiff or Glasgow, not some pathetic collection of shanty huts that we can arrogantly despise. Their language is the same as ours, and they can tell us exactly what they think of us instead of babbling away in some incomprehensible native lingo while they lined up like sheep for the slaughter.”

[Y Saeth, Spring 1977, by a Welsh ex-officer NI veteran].

After Operation Banner started, many of the top-brass had thought the army would achieve a swift victory. When it became clear, however, that the British Army was going to be in Northern Ireland for a considerable time, the MoD began preparing the army for a prolonged conflict. So, special training areas, often called ‘Tin Cities’, were then built in serving base areas in Britain and other places like West Germany:

“My Tour with the British Army in Northern Ireland began three months before the RAF transport aircraft touched down on the glistening tarmac at Aldergrove Airport outside Belfast. For those months, the unit had been in Germany on a mock-up council estate. There was a pub full of faceless people, soldiers dressed up in Civ. Pop. (Civilian Population) clothing, a corner of County Down and a riot torn street. It was reminiscent of childhood scenarios in which we were the hunter or the hunted. I enjoyed being the hunted, outwitting and outmanoeuvring, and eventually triumphing over the forces of authority. But I instinctively felt those games were abstractions that bore little relation to what Ireland would really be like.”

[Guardian, 26th Oct. 1988, in Young Guardian section, by ex-soldier Simon Warsap].

First known as IS (Internal Security) training, the drills at these locations later became known as NITAT (Northern Ireland Training Advisory Team) training and many veterans have vivid memories of their time there. Basic training and again in their Regiments had taught soldiers to obey orders without question, even to damaging, or killing, other human beings. But now it was considered that a special aggressive element needed to be added, so, the ‘mock-up’ upped training areas were constructed at British Army bases around the world, like the ‘Killymurphy’ Tin City complex built at Sennelager in West Germany.

In both the first and second World Wars, only a minority of soldiers were thought to have been ‘doing the business’ in seeking to ‘kill the enemy’, many of the others did not even fire their rifles, or if they did, they fired to wound, or miss. For the type of conflict being undertaken in Northern Ireland the creating of blood-lust in the troops was now considered to be not enough on its own – but it, combined with training drills to induce an automatic pro-active violent reaction – were now thought to be required.

The MoD were seeking to counteract their troops becoming inactive in ‘any aggro’, by increasing efforts to dehumanise ‘the enemy’ – and by intensively and repeatedly training the soldiers to be pro-active in hostile situations. The idea was to turn the soldiers’ fear into rage – and with that rage ensure a series of co-ordinated violent actions were put in motion. Then the troops superior violence would trump that of their opponents and ensure that any incidents were resolved in favour of the soldiers.

The ‘Tin City’ upped training became a crucial part of this process and, in elite units, like the Royal Marine Commandos, the training could be extreme:

“The prospect of going to Northern Ireland is very much in soldiers’ heads, all the time. Before you go you do 3 months non-stop training for it … This training is quite different from the usual NATO training. It’s a whole new ball game. It’s urban warfare for a start. Most of my ‘Internal Security’ training was done in the barracks. Each Company (there were four) took it in turns to be ‘rioters’ and ‘terrorists’ one day and the security forces the next. About a month before the actual tour of Northern Ireland we had to spend two weeks at a barracks in Lydd in Kent. It is here that the ‘IS’ training becomes more realistic. Within the barracks there is a mock town consisting of several streets, alleyways and generally resembling any ordinary working-class district. Practical training is given in riot control, house searching, interrogation techniques, sniper positioning and setting up secret observation posts etc., etc. The training is so realistic that every day people were injured. I used to wonder that if this is what happened during training God only knows what will happen when we get there.

Training also covers intelligence and interrogation. In one exercise, on Dartmoor, you are captured and interrogated. It’s very tough and realistic. You are beaten up, sometimes quite badly and they give you the roughest treatment they can actually give you short of putting you in hospital – though that has been known. They believe that you’ve got to know exactly what you’ve got to dish out and the best way to know is by receiving it yourself. You learn how to do these things by being a victim.”

[British Soldiers Speak Out on Ireland, ex-Royal Marine Commando Chris Byrne, Information on Ireland, 1978].

  This type of training, for troops about to carry out an occupying role, did prepare the soldiers physically for urban warfare on the streets – and conditioned them mentally for such a conflict. But, most importantly, it created an ‘us-versus-them’ mind-set and instilled a ‘take-the-initiative’ imperative. The drills were practiced until their use became embedded, so that when a soldier pressed the trigger of his rifle his mind was on the implanted routines he was carrying out – and not on considering if his actions might kill another human-being.

The training differed from that used for conventional war, but only because of the circumstances – and according to the situations – that this conflict would be fought over:

“At this very moment [1977], there are British regiments training in England and in Western Germany: exercising in elaborate ‘mock-ups’ of Irish ghettos, complete with custom built houses, pubs and shops. A local population culled from the ranks of the unit being tested is assumed to be totally hostile, and is instructed to behave accordingly. Even the feminine touch is not forgotten. Members of the Women’s Royal Army Corps are specially imported to hurl abuse at the soldiers, presumably to condition them for life in the raw, Creggan or Turf Lodge fashion. There is no doubt that from a military standpoint, the training is effective. It does instil alertness and aggression. It also takes little account of the finer points of dealing with the bulk of a terrified population who actually have to live in the ghettos – for real.”

[Irish Press, by a serving British Officer, 24th and 25th Jan. 1977].

The Army top brass, however, were not slow to realise that soldiers continually involved in a real, if limited, war would become some of the ‘best trained’ in the world. Cynically, many senior officers began to look upon Northern Ireland as a training ground:

“When soldiers moved on to the streets of Northern Ireland in August 1969, Lt-Gen Sir Ian Freeland, General Officer Commanding in the province, gloomily predicted they would be there for 10 years. He thought he was erring on the side of pessimism. But he also foresaw hidden benefits for the new model army, recreated after the end of National Service, in that respect he displayed more prescience … Northern Ireland has given several generations of officers and NCOs the experience of commanding troops in action. Lieutenant-colonels, in their late thirties, responsible for the safety of 500 men in, say, West Belfast or the dangerous border country round Bessbrook Mill, have matured as battalion commanders in the province. The details might be specific to Northern Ireland. But the lessons have a wider application – which found full expression seven years ago in the Falklands. The proficiency of those who landed at San Carlos owed much to their experience in Ulster. The battles for Port Stanley and Goose Green were partly won in Belfast and Londonderry … The hiss of an incoming bullet in the Falls probably trains a soldier more quickly and efficiently than two weeks in a classroom at the School of Infantry, as senior officers privately acknowledge … A new generation of young men have grown up with no memory of life before 1969. To them the Army has always been in Ulster. The Army has thus become not only one of the world’s most experienced in countering terrorism but one whose fighting edge has been finely honed.”

[The Times, by Henry Stanhope, 8th Aug. 1989].

Army captain Mike Biggs experienced the training for Northern Ireland, and the effect it had on the soldiers once they were on a tour of duty:

“They have these model villages where they simulate what it’s going to be like in Northern Ireland. The soldiers go out there, basically geared up to expect these unruly crowds to start throwing things at them. Everyone is under suspicion until they have proved otherwise. And, no two ways about it, there’s the delineation between Roman Catholics and Protestants, and that’s very much borne out in Northern Ireland: as a soldier you are led to believe you can trust Protestants more than Catholics … Then there are talks by intelligence officers which point out what kind of area you’re going to. We went to what they call the ‘cowboy country’ on the border. They stressed it was a difficult place because it was predominantly Roman Catholic and that would mean trouble . When soldiers get out there they find some of the community not as hostile, and there isn’t as much danger, as they were led to believe. I think there is this kind of compensation factor – you get soldiers going out looking for trouble. I remember being out twice trying to smooth over a situation where some of our patrols had antagonised members of the community by using threatening language and behaviour. Another patrol had driven up on the pavement: it had intimidated people just walking on the pavement. There was this idea that ‘we are occupying’ – it was very much like occupying troops: ‘Don’t you dare start complaining, otherwise – up against the wall’.”

[Northern Ireland – Looking Through the Violence, by ex-captain Mike Biggs, Peace Pledge Union, 1993].

The Consequences of ‘Going-On-Auto’

Most successful armies around the world are effective and efficient killing machines. But, as with the ‘war-dog’ General, F P Crozier, during WW1, they find that their recruits are ‘kindly fellows’ – and they still need a process ‘to corrode their mentality’. The system has moved on, however, with more emphasis now being put on psychological processes.

Today’s military experts in the UK claim that soldiers will fight:

  1. For themselves – combative instincts / manly pride / survival.
  2. For their mates – bonding / fear of letting the side down.
  3. For the regiment – tribal honour / loyalty.
  4. For national reasons – Queen and country / patriotism. 

From a military point of view the ‘Tin City’ training was proving effective and it did save the lives of soldiers during gun and bomb attacks. But the Army was now producing soldiers who had been coached in pre-emptive actions over and over and over again, until they became so fired-up their drills were etched on the brain – and switched-them-on automatically. And after tours-of-duty veterans would often talk about ‘going-on-auto’, when ‘the aggro had all kicked off’.

Some soldiers, however, adopted a ‘warrior culture’ and became ultra-aggressive, which started to become clear both in Northern Ireland and after the troops returned from tours-of-duty. In his book, ‘Shoot To Kill’, Michael Asher outlined his experiences in the Parachute Regiment and in graphic detail tells about his training and his tours-of-duty in Northern Ireland. He described the tension and the fights that break out between soldiers in this situation – and then describes the extremes that training, conditioning and alienation can bring out in some soldiers:

“One group of soldiers would hold so-called ‘gunge’ contests. They sat round in a circle and tried to outdo each other in acts of gross obscenity, like eating shit and drinking urine. During house searches they vented their anger on their victims, smashing down doors and breaking up furniture, kicking and rifle-butting anyone who resisted, making lewd suggestions to the women of the house and threatening the children … The circumstances of our training, coupled with the peculiar nature of our existence in Northern Ireland – a blend of boredom, frustration and occasional terror – turned us into savages. We begged and prayed for a chance to fight, to smash, to kill, to destroy: we were fire-eating berserkers, a hurricane of human brutality ready to burst forth on anyone or anything that stood in our way. We were unreligious, apolitical and remorseless, a caste of warrior-janissaries who worshipped at the high-altar of violence and wanted nothing more.”

[Shoot To Kill – A soldier’s Journey Through Violence, by Michael Asher, Penguin Books, 1991].

During the ‘Tin City’ training, the most important elements, from the military point of view, was to have the troops react instantly to any threat directed towards them and establish their control over any situation. With this in mind, the IS and NITAT training was designed to maximise soldiers aggression. The drills, lodged in their minds by persistent training, switched them on to directing overwhelming violence to ensure their victory in any clashes.

During this time Westminster politicians were always talking about the ‘peacekeeping role’ of the Army – and the British media were saying ‘what a jolly good job our boys are doing in Northern Ireland’. After the return of units from tours-of-duty, however, there started to occur many instances of serving soldiers’ involvement in incidents of violence, and/or other crimes back home.

A favourite location to rid the troops of the ‘stresses of combat’ were the British Army base areas (pictured in red), situated on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

Towards the end of the last century, however, the island began to experience a series of violent incidents caused by soldiers returning from tours-of-duty. And these came to a head in 1994, when three Royal Green Jackets, Alan Ford, Justin Fowler and Jeff Pernell, abducted a Danish tour guide, Louise Jensen. Then they stripped her, sexually assaulted her and savagely beat her to death with an army-issue spade – her head was so badly damaged she could only be identified by a tattoo on her shoulder and a ring on one of her fingers.

The soldiers had fought in the Falklands and just completed a tour-of-duty in Northern Ireland. Rifleman Ford was already on a charge of assault, accused of smashing a beer glass into the face of a British tourist, who required 32 stitches. He was not confined to barracks, however, ‘because the case had not yet come to court’.

Later, during the soldiers’ trial for murder, the ‘Observer’ journalist Mike Theodoulou listened to the evidence:

“Last week, several barmen told the court that, less than two hours before the three allegedly killed the tour guide, they were on a drunken pub crawl in the two-star tourist resort of Ayia Napa and had danced in the streets. They detailed the astonishing quantities of alcohol that were consumed by the three. At one pub alone, Fowler and Pernell drank six or seven pints of beer each and Ford knocked back five or six whiskies, before each had three complimentary tequilas.”

[Observer, 30th July, 1995].

At the trial the soldiers only explanation was that: ‘they wanted a woman’, and they were sentenced to life imprisonment for abduction, rape and manslaughter. Later, their sentence was cut to 25 years each, of which they served 12 years, before being released back to the UK in 2006. A written apology from the MoD on behalf of the British Prime Minister, John Major, was sent to Jensen’s parents.

Just after the crime had been committed, the ‘Observer’ journalist, Theodoulou, had set out to get the soldiers point of view and he visited a bar frequented by British troops:

“And so it is that at Cozzi’s pub, a drunken rifleman – who has just demanded another double vodka and lemonade – thrusts his sunburned nose inches from my face and barks: ‘You fucker, you’re making me really nervous, I mean I’m feeling really fucking aggressive. If you’re a journalist, ask me a fucking question’. Did the Green Jackets like Cyprus? The answer was a quick and simple negative, without even the usual expletive. Most of the rank and file hate the island … Hours after the drunken Green Jacket speaks to me, the whole regiment is called in by their commanding officer and warned not to speak to the press – as another soldier tells me at a different pub the following day. Many officers, who enjoy more gentlemanly pursuits such as polo, rambling and helping local charities, also cannot wait to leave. ‘This incident was incredibly embarrassing after our superb record in Northern Ireland’, said one officer bitterly. ‘Who remembers the medals we got there for gallantry now?’.”

[Observer, 30th July 1995].

Excessive drinking, or drugs, often played a large part in these occurrences, which were also taking place in, or around, army garrison towns in Britain. After the numbers of these incidents began to stack-up, the ‘Sunday Times Insight Team’ started an investigation into the events in 1997:

“The number of convictions in civilian courts – the most reliable independent indicator of serious army crime, according to legal experts – shows that offences involving drugs and violence committed by soldiers have increased dramatically. In 1995, the latest year for which figures are available, there were 289 convictions. Of these, there were 38 convictions for drugs offences – an increase of 80% on the previous year. Figures released this weekend by the office of the judge advocate general, Judge James Rant QC, reveal that the crime wave has hit all the big army garrisons in Britain. Bulford in Wiltshire, headquarters of the army’s Third Division, has the worst record. In six years to the end of 1996, local courts-martial heard 77 cases involving serious crimes of violence and drugs, Aldershot, headquarters of the Parachute Regiment, had 73 courts-martial cases; Catterick, an infantry training garrison, logged 71. David Howell, a former military prosecutor, said the number of courts martial in Aldershot reflected the type of soldier in the Parachute Regiment: ‘If you train these people to the peak of fitness and tell them how to attack an enemy and then they take a lot of drink, little disagreements are bound to lead to an incident’, he said.”

[Sunday Times, 15th June 1997]. 

Over time it became clear that some soldiers – back after tours-of-duty – had resorted to the violence that was rooted in them during their army training and active service. The concentrated ‘Tin City’ training, especially, had created an instilled reaction in the troops, so they’d respond immediately in an aggressive and co-ordinated way when they were shot at, or caught up in any other aggravation. This impetus to aggressive violence, however, was never removed from their brains and with some soldiers it began to pop-up again automatically in places like Cyprus, or the army garrison areas in Britain.

Bringing the Violence Home

In the 1980s and 1990s, while collecting information for my book, ‘Hidden Wounds: The problems of Northern Ireland veterans in Civvy Street’, I discovered that some ex-soldiers were prone to ‘going-on-auto’ back in Civvy Street. Automatically switching-on to violence to resolve domestic, or public, disputes. And veterans began to feature in ever increasing numbers in the criminal justice system.

There have been, of course, many veterans who have settled back into life back home, seemingly unaffected by their service in conflict situations. Some even used their experiences of tours-of-duty to good effect in Civvy Street. Nigel Benn and Terry Marsh were ex-soldiers and Northern Ireland veterans who became world champion boxers, with both being fierce fighters who often overcame more skilful opponents by sheer aggression.

Marsh fell out with his promoter Frank Warren and was arrested for his attempted murder – after Warren was shot and wounded outside a pub in Barking. Richard Ferguson, who defended the ex-Royal Marine Marsh at the trial, said that Marsh had served with the Marines in Northern Ireland before he went on to become a professional boxer. Mr Ferguson then told the jury:

“If Terry Marsh was the gunman it’s not an attempted murder trial we would have been hearing but a murder trial. He has been fired upon in reality and has tested his skill, courage and nerve in the boxing ring. If he had been the gunman there would have been a different result. There would have been no wasted live cartridges at the scene. I put it to you that we would have had Marine’s training with two rapid shots followed by a third into the body prostrate on the ground. There would have been no mess, no excitement, no fumbling if a trained Marine had done this.”

[Daily Record, 6th Nov. 1990].

Terry Marsh was subsequently acquitted and set free. In 1989, the year before Marsh’s trial, Nigel Benn, who was then the Commonwealth middleweight boxing champion, was asked: ‘Did he ever feel afraid in the ring?’ He replied:

“Christ, I remember the day we arrived in Ulster. All the Rambos in our regiment [1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers] were loving it – they were crazy – they thought this was all some film, like. I knew it was no film. For every single moment I was there, for two whole bloody years, I was terrified, man, sheer terrified! Even today, man, when I hear a click, my ass hits the floor! I lost four of my best mates there, blown to bits, and I wonder now just what the hell it was all for. No, man, I have no fears in the ring, absolutely none at all. After two years crawling around Tyrone and South Armagh, it don’t frighten me none!”

[You, the Mail on Sunday magazine, 23rd April 1989].

Many of Benn’s fights were short lived contests:

Nigel Benn and Terry Marsh had both left the army and Northern Ireland behind and gone on to find fame and fortune in the boxing ring. Benn, who liked a ‘good tear-up’, was so aggressive that many people thought he had something driving him.

Perhaps, it was the same thing that drove a number of other Northern Ireland veterans into violence and jail? Because many veterans, who’d experienced the ‘Tin City’ drills, became desensitised and brutalised by their training and tours-of-duty. Some, who turned to crime in Civvy Street using their combat skills for personal gain, ended up being convicted of violent crimes and serving time in British prisons.

In the mid-80s a gang, known as the Rambo Raiders, carried out a series of robberies on Glasgow pubs armed with sawn-off shotguns, a rifle and a revolver. The gang wore camouflaged combat jackets with black and green hoods. When caught, the gang leader veteran Kenneth Ross, who had served in Northern Ireland, was jailed for 15 years:

“Kenneth Ross, a former soldier, was the leader of a gang of Rambo Raiders who terrorised Glasgow pubs in a 13-month robbery spree … Ross … had been found guilty of nine charges of assault and robbery, fraud, possession of weapons, aiming a sawn-off shotgun at a detective with intent to murder him … With him in the dock were: Donald MacDonald, 19, … another former soldier, detained in a young offenders’ institution for eight years on six assault and robbery charges … In court yesterday the judge, Lord Cullen … addressing both Ross and MacDonald, who had served in Ulster with their former regiment, The Queen’s Own Highlanders … said it was disheartening to find their Army skills had been put to such ill use in order to gain easy money … Ethel Ross [Kenneth’s mother] … referring to the fact that her son would receive a long jail sentence … added … ‘The Army has really changed him. You know … they just give them guns and tell them to go out and shoot people’.”

[Daily Record, 23rd Jan. 1987].

Some veterans, looking for work and adventure, became mercenaries and fought for dubious regimes and causes in various parts of the world. Others, hired out their killing skills at home. In 1987, ex-soldier Patrick Timlin was convicted for carrying out assassinations:      “A former soldier called the ‘cut-price killer’ because of his willingness to shoot people was convicted yesterday of a murder plot against leading Sikh moderates in Britain … Timlin, of Lillington, Warwickshire, was paid just £6,000 to carry out two shootings in London. He killed one Sikh moderate – Mr Tarsem Toor, aged 55 – and partially blinded the second – Mr Singtar Singh Sandhu, aged 48 – by shooting them in the head with a sawn-off shotgun …”

[Times, 30th Oct. 1987].

In 1994, ‘The Guardian’ published an article which explained how ex-soldiers were increasingly becoming involved in professional crime, according to police, probation officers and welfare workers:

“Some are using skills acquired in the army to carry out armed robberies with military precision … A probation officer with four former soldiers serving sentences for armed robbery as clients, says many ex-servicemen are unprepared for civilian life. Speaking of an ex-soldier serving a three-year sentence for robbery, she said: ‘No one had prepared him for the fact that there were no jobs around. He was used to a regular salary and had a wife and child to support. They come out with terrific expectations and then find out that life isn’t like that’. Three other former soldiers who had served in Northern Ireland are now serving six-year sentences for the armed robbery of a post office. They had suffered traumas from their experiences in Northern Ireland, she said, but had received no counselling.”

[Guardian, 21st Nov. 1994, by Duncan Campbell and Kevin Rushby].

Just before tours-of-duty, during their upped training, a concept was implanted in soldiers brains – that extreme violence was required to solve problems. This was coupled with a type of training that equipped them with the ability to switch-on – and instantly dish it out. On the one hand, in the military, this created effective soldiers, on the other hand, in Civvy Street, it made veterans who were often difficult and sometimes dangerous.

With their civilian mentality ‘corroded’ by army training and no effort made to return them to being ‘kindly fellows’, some ex-soldiers turned to crime and used their imbedded violence for personal gain. Those examples, however, were just the tip of the iceberg of such events among combat troops. Most incidents of violence from returning veterans were occurring not for criminal gain, but often happened spontaneously, in private at home, or during confrontations that had broken out in public places.

The percentage of ex-service personnel serving time in the British prison system rocketed. In September 2009 NAPO – the Trade Union and Professional Association for Family Court and Probation Staff – published a briefing paper that concluded that 8.5% of the prison population, nearly 8,000, were ex-military and that 6% of those on probation and parole, about 12,000, were also veterans. The NAPO report went on to state:

“… nearly half were suffering from diagnosed or undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. The principal offence was one of violence, particularly in a domestic setting. The vast majority … did not receive adequate support or counselling …”

After all wars, there is further conflict after the war, as the veterans return and try to settle again back home. After WW1, for instance, the promised ‘land fit for heroes’ had never materialised – and many veterans then had also faced another battle, just to endure in Civvy Street. And veterans, commemorating their fallen comrades, marched in London behind banners saying: ‘Never Again’, with many attaching pawn tickets beside their medals.

At the start of WW2, which began just over two decades after ‘the war to end all wars’ had ended, the British Government were still paying out £2 million to ‘shell-shocked’ old-timers of WW1. While many other veterans were still locked up in prisons, or mental institutions.

Both Frank Percy Crozier and Harry Patch had survived serving through the ‘Great War’. In 2005, Patch told about his meeting with the last surviving German veteran of WW1:

“When the war ended, I don’t know if I was more relieved that we’d won or that I didn’t have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle – thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Charles Kuentz, Germany’s only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We’ve had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?”

In the latter part of his life Harry Patch had become an international icon for world peace and against wars:

Frank Crozier, another WW1 veteran who’d become a ‘war-dog’ General and fed his men lies and propaganda to raise their blood lust, had loyally served most of his life as a mercenary and regular soldier in the service of his country. Before his death he explained what his life as a warrior for Britain and the Empire had taught him:

“My own experience of war, which is a prolonged one, is that anything may happen in it, from the very highest kinds of chivalry and sacrifice to the very lowest form of barbaric debasement … Many people were happy in the outbreak of 1914 – I was one of them. I am now chastened, as I have seen the suffering … It is perfectly clear to me, that in the future, if a rumour of war is ever hushed or noised around, the peoples of the world must all rise up and say ‘No!’ With no uncertain voice.”

Both Patch and Crozier knew, that if future wars were not stopped, then the killings and mayhem would happen all over again, and again and again.

© Northern Friends Peace Board


Postscript: Help Make the UK a Neutral Country

Veterans For Peace UK is a voluntary and politically independent ex-services organisation of men and women who have served in conflicts from WW2 through to Afghanistan.

As a result of our collective experiences we firmly believe that: ‘War is not the solution to the problems we face in the 21st century’. We are not a pacifist organisation, however, as we accept the inherent right of self-defence in response to an armed attack.

VFP works to influence the foreign and defence policy of the UK, for the larger purpose of world peace. We are working to restrain our government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations.

In order to achieve this goal, we are seeking support, across the political spectrum, for the UK to become a permanently neutral country.


Information compiled and written by VFP member, Aly Renwick, who joined-up aged 16 and served for 8 years in the British Army from 1960-8. Renwick’s books are available from the VFP Shop:


One of Aly’s books ‘HIDDEN WOUNDS: The problems of Northern Ireland Veterans in Civvy St.’ was written about the violence that veterans were bringing home after tours-of-duty in Northern Ireland. Where, from 1969 to 2007, Operation Banner was the longest continuous deployment in British military history, during which troop numbers rose markedly. By the end of the conflict around 300,000 soldiers had served tours-of-duty and, like the Vietnam veterans in the USA, many British soldiers experienced psychological and/or other rehabilitation problems on their return to Civvy Street. ‘Hidden Wounds’, while examining the long history of combat-related PTSD, takes a detailed look at what happened to some of the Northern Ireland veterans and shows how many of them ended up serving time in HM prisons – after committing violent acts in Civvy Street.

‘Northern Ireland to the Max’. See the Tin City training at Lydd in Kent and VFP members talking about their experiences there:


See VFP founder, Ben Griffin, on the making of a British Soldier:


The film ‘War School’ reveals the ways in which the British government and armed forces are using a series of coherent and targeted strategies to promote military values to the British public and entice its children into joining the forces. See the trailer:


In ‘The Ballymurphy Precedent’ (2018) Callum Macrae’s feature documentary tells the story of 11 people killed in Ballymurphy by British paratroopers in 1971 and the struggle by relatives to discover the truth about their deaths. Taking place in the early days of internment, these killings paved the way for those carried out 6 months later in Derry during Bloody Sunday. See the Trailer:

The film ‘The Battle of Algiers’ by Gillo Pontecorvo (1966 B&W 116 mins) is set during the Algerian War for independence 1954-62. It shows the brutal attempts of French paratroopers to crush the uprising. Shot documentary style in grainy newsreel quality, it is regarded as a classic depiction of colonial warfare, as well as a masterpiece of modern cinema:






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